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Generation Y’s Job Plight: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y

October 19, 2009
Updated February 2016
4 People and WorldThis post is a special aimed at a segment of my readership that was hammered by the 2008-09 Great Recession and that continues to struggle almost a decade later to succeed in a turbulent job market. My aim is to provide some moral support and advice on how to weather the storm. And I should note that some of my comments will no doubt offend my fellow Baby Boomers. C’est la vie! From a fellow Boomer.

It’s amazing how fast things can change in the economy. Not long ago, writers, trainers and speakers on Gen Y couldn’t stress hard enough to us Baby Boomers how we were going to have to adapt to the different value system of young people. I attended numerous presentations and read enough articles and books on the topic to get the message that organizations would have to change, from being hierarchical and control-oriented to being more lateral and power-sharing. Well, that’s a work in progress.

I actually liked what I was hearing because at the time I was working in repressive bureaucratic organizational structures. And then something happened. It’s now being referred to as The Great Recession of 2008-09. All bets were off now for Gen Y.

What sparked this post when I first wrote it was the lead story in BusinessWeek. The somber title was The Lost Generation. I knew that this was an emerging issue for the media and was glad to see that BusinessWeek picked it up.

As the old adage goes: “Last in, first out the door.” Gen Y has become very familiar with this practice, unfortunately. And while some out there may say that life’s not fair and to suck it up, I disagree–strongly. Here’s why.

• It was Baby Boomers (50-70) and the Silent Generation (71-85) that were responsible for the financial liquidity crisis, i.e., they make up the power players in industry and government. Gen X is still working its way into senior leadership positions.

• Irresponsible lending practices were ignored by supposedly highly educated and informed people in positions of influence.

• Baby Boomers have fueled insane consumer spending for years, getting themselves ridiculously overextended to the point of financial collapse – and serving as poor role models for younger people.

• When the crisis struck, companies retrenched and began throwing overboard whatever they could find. Generation Y has been a popular target to date.

And in early 2016, concern is being expressed in the U.S. that Gen Y is having difficulty finding homes to buy on top of stricter lending requirements, while in Canada the modus operandi seems to be to further extend your personal indebtedness.

Sears Tower In addition to the plight facing Gen Y, another crisis is looming in the distance that will have a strong impact in the coming years: the collapse of pension plans in North America. Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran a week-long special series on pension plans; the picture is ugly. My concerns are twofold:

a) As Boomers face the financial wrecking ball of failing pension plans their retirement plans are going out the window. Coupled with this is changing technology that is putting many of their
occupational skills out of date. My question is how is aggregate demand to be sustained if spend-crazy Boomers stop spending?

b) Gen Y (and Gen X) will be expected to step up to the plate to help pay for government pension plans as we Boomers zoom around in our walkers. The prevailing attitude of Boomers and the Silent Generation is this: Whether you guys ever get a pension is not our concern.

The picture is indeed ugly – and will get a lot uglier in the coming years. Here’s one factoid: The C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, forecasts that the “demographic bill” that will hit the federal and provincial governments over the next 50 years will amount to $1.5 trllion. Health, education and child benefit payments now make up 15% of GDP, but are expected to account for 19% of GDP by 2056. The US situation will be similar, expect that the absolute dollar amounts will be
much, much bigger.

I worked for 30 plus years, most of that time as an economist and leadership practitioner. I know how labor markets function and in fact spent my earlier years in that field. I want to share some personal anecdotes that may help my readers get a better understanding of past events that have hit youth, but what I really want to provide is a list of tips that can help position you for the future – call it Jim’s Top 12 Tips for Gen Y.

This is not the first time that young people have been creamed by a recession. When I first graduated from university in 1978 my peers and I were lucky to find jobs quickly. The going salary then was around $11,000 a year. Sounds crappy but it was actually not bad. But after two years of working as a loans officer chasing delinquent customers I decided enough was enough. I went back to school to do a masters degree in economics. Did I have a game plan? Absolutely not. In fact, my wife and I had a new baby girl. To control costs we sold our second hand Volkswagon Rabbit and lived on campus in the married dorm.

When I was finishing my masters in 1982 the economy was a wreck. Inflation was very high as was the unemployment rate. I lucked out, in part because I was keeping my eyes open for job opportunities and was prepared to sacrifice, i.e., working fulltime while finishing my thesis while helping raise two kids–without a car.

Because of my work as a labor market economist, I knew full well what young people were going through in the 1980s. It was depressing for them. Tuition rates were steadily rising, the minimum wage had barely budged, and the cost of living was soaring.

Stressed Employee 1 Fast forward to today’s reality. Tuition rates are absurdly high, in comparison to wages earned by students. New college graduates face staggering student loan debt levels with punishing interest rates. And we Boomers have set Gen Y up as patsies for a huge fall.

“Go to university…forget community college; that’s for dummies.” Almost 45 years ago that was the refrain in high school, and it’s still being sung for the most part. Yes, community college programs have grown in respect in North America over recent years, but they still don’t command the respect they deserve. In particular, building trades and others trades such as machinists, electricians, and tool and die makers get overlooked.

I learned something valuable a few summers ago when I had a hardwood floor installed in former home. I was fortunate to find an excellent installer, who I would call a master craftsman. His name was Slava and he was from Ukrania. Although he’d lived in Ottawa, Canada, for over six years his English was quite rudimentary. But over the two days he was in the house doing his work we spend a lot of time talking. I learned that he had been a professional boxer in Ukrania when he was a young man, ranked number one, and also boxed in the former Soviet Red Army.

On one occasion Slava asked me what type of work I did. I don’t think he was too impressed with my reply. But he then said something I’ll never forget: “Jim, a man has to have two professions. You have to be able to fall back on one if something happens.”

In addition to having installed hardwood for 16 years, Slava had also been a shoemaker in Ukraine – not just repairing shoes but making them from scratch. We then talked about the problems that Canadian youth were having finding work. To Slava, he couldn’t understand why more young people were not going into the trades. From his point of view trades are an honorable profession. I’m sure he thought that my profession, which involves sitting in a chair all day long looking at a computer screen, was bizarre.

So Gen Y, you’re living in a crappy job market. But the sun always rises, and so too will your fortunes. But to give you some inspiration and help I’ve prepared the following

Jim’s Top 12 Tips for Gen Y

1) Realize that this economic mess is not your fault…but don’t get a chip on your shoulder over it either.

2) Own your morale and attitude on how you perceive the world.

3) Never stop learning. When you think you’ve had enough, find another area in which to learn something new. Read a book – don’t just web surf.

4) Follow Slava’s rule: have two trades or professions

5) Working after high school or taking time off to work or travel during college may be a good idea, but it’s a personal decision. Only you can make the final decision once you’ve checked things out, including receiving constructive advice from family and friends. Oh, and tell your parents to chill out if they start to panic.

6) Make this time off a growth experience. Don’t rot at home or hang out with friends who are going nowhere.

7) Lower your material expectations (remember we Boomers will need you to help pay for our pension plans).

8) Post-secondary education is always a good thing (usually), but take the time to assess your interests and passions against what college programs offer.

9) Remember that there will always be ‘unknowns’ of which you’re unaware. Never be a know-it-all. Be humble and curious.

10) Be open to outcome, not attached to it.

11) Create your future by seizing opportunities and then allowing Mr. Luck in.

12) Sacrifice. It’s the ONLY way to initiate personal change and to systematically make a long-term improvement in your economic wellbeing.

Good luck!


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14 Comments leave one →
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  2. December 24, 2010 9:14 pm

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    • December 25, 2010 5:09 am

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  3. May 2, 2010 4:50 pm

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  4. October 20, 2009 4:19 pm

    What a great post. I actually find that boomers and Gen Y have a lot more in common than we like to think.

    Boomers, like Gen Y wanted to change the world. Methods differ greatly, but the seed of intention is the same. Fortunately, Gen Y has all that technology has to offer to fuel their change-the-world passions. And we Boomers applaud and support them in a sort of grandparent kinda way. But here’s how we can do more:

    It seems to me we have to let go of the blame about Boomers being the wrecking ball of consumption, and instead use it–together, as collaborators–to create change. For now, this means allowing Gen Y to discover who they really, truly are, what they value, and how those values translate to education (or not) and career choices. And when the economy unseizes, Boomers need to quit being stingy and fearful that the “new blood” will squeeze them out and start sharing, training, collaborating.

    2 cents…

    • October 20, 2009 4:47 pm

      Great comments, Lisa. Like the idea of collaborating, which includes power-sharing. And Gen Y needs to find their own voice and emerge from the looming shadow that’s been over them. But we musn’t forget Gen X, now steadily taking over the reigns of executive leadership as Boomers retire (though the extent of that is uncertain given the economy).

      Yes, there’s an assumption that Gen Y and Boomers have enough in common, though the context is different. But where does that leave Gen X, considering that in the next few years they will increasingly be the bosses of Gen Y. Is there a generational tension between these two groups?

  5. Lynn permalink
    October 20, 2009 3:35 pm

    Hey Jim,
    #5 hit home for me. Because I did take time off to work (one year) before going to college. I had relatives, and teachers telling me I was making a HUGE mistake, that I would never go back to school. I always knew I would and think it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made.
    There are a lot of high school grads that are going off to colleges and universities because they have parents, and teachers pushing them in that directing. They are being forced to make decisions they are not ready to make. They don’t know what they want to be doing and end up wasting tens of thousands of dollars attending classes that do not interest them, just to make mom and dad or teacher LMNOP happy.

  6. October 20, 2009 1:26 pm

    Jim, great article!

    As Gen Xers, my wife and I just published a book that readers of this blog may enjoy. It’s named “Y’s Up! 85 Tips from the Trenches in Today’s No-Guarantees Job Market” and is available at Amazon.com. Our aim is to help Gen Yers quickly succeed in their organizations.

  7. October 19, 2009 7:58 pm

    Great tips! #2 and #11 resonated with me. People need to take personal responsibility for their happiness and success.

    Also, I loved hearing about the different paths taken by your 4 kids. Ryan, my oldest, is a high school senior, and we are currently facing a lot of life-affecting decisions regarding college. My husband and I are letting Ryan take the wheel, but it sure is hard not to be a backseat driver. I’ll have to keep your good example in mind. 🙂

    • October 19, 2009 9:51 pm

      Ah yes. Driving lessons and getting a licence. My son put us through the paces back then…and we lived to tell about it!

  8. October 19, 2009 4:14 pm

    Thanks Geoff.

    New expression “Recessionary Refugee.” Sad but true for too many people. Indeed, sometimes it’s the seemingly obvious statements that are the hardest to put into action – #2.

  9. October 19, 2009 3:12 pm

    Nice list Jim. As a recessionary refugee, I’d have to say that #2 is the easiest to understand and the hardest to implement!

    Keep hitting the rock – eventually it will break.

Trackbacks

  1. Are You Managing or LEADING Generation Y? « ChangingWinds
  2. Hey Gen Y! Can You Become Untouchable? « ChangingWinds

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